Brazilian Supreme Court takes crucial step towards recognizing indigenous rights

Indigenous peoples worldwide are the victims of the largest genocide in human history, which is ongoing. Wherever indigenous cultures have not been completely destroyed or assimilated, they stand as relentless defenders of the landbases and natural communities which are there ancestral homes. They also provide living proof that humans as a species are not inherently destructive, but a societal structure based on large scale monoculture, endless energy consumption, accumulation of wealth and power for a few elites, human supremacy and patriarchy (i.e. civilization) is. DGR stands in strong solidarity with indigenous peoples.

This article originally appeared on Survival International.
Featured image: One of the leaders of Guyra Roka, Ambrosio Vilhalva, who was murdered in 2013. © Sarah Shenker/Survival


A small community of Brazilian Indians has won a land rights case at Brazil’s Supreme Court that could have major repercussions for indigenous people across the country.

The Court has ruled that a 2014 judicial decision canceling the return of some of their ancestral territory to the Guarani community of Guyra Roka must be revisited because the Guarani themselves were not involved in the process. Now, they must be given a fair hearing before the Court votes again on the return of their territory.

The ruling will potentially affect other communities whose lands have been stolen, but who hope to reclaim them.

However, the chances of the Guarani recovering their land any time soon are remote.

Most of the area has been taken over by a powerful politician and rancher, José Teixeira, who has been implicated in a series of attacks on the Guarani. One of the leaders of Guyra Roka, Ambrosio Vilhalva, who acted in the feature film Birdwatchers, was stabbed to death in 2013.

Vilhalva and others led a “re-occupation” in 2000 to recover a small parcel of their land from the rancher.

Tito Vilhalva, a religious leader of the Guyra Roka community, said: “I’m 99 years old now. [When I was young] Guyra Roka was forest – there was no road, no fences. It was just forest and Indians, monkeys and tapirs. There were no Brazilians then.”

The 2014 cancelation of the Guyra Roka’s territory was based on what campaigners have called the “Time Limit Trick” – a ploy by anti-indigenous politicians to manipulate the constitution and steal indigenous lands.

The Time Limit Trick says that unless indigenous peoples were living on their ancestral lands on October 5, 1988 [the day the Brazilian Constitution was adopted] they no longer have any right to them. If successful, this genocidal manoeuvre would put hundreds of indigenous territories and dozens of uncontacted tribes at grave risk.

The Supreme Court is due to rule in a separate case shortly concerning the Xokleng tribe that will set the definitive precedent for the Time Limit Trick. If it is upheld in that case, indigenous rights will be set back decades and many tribal peoples, and their lands, could be destroyed.

The indigenous lawyer Eloy Terena said: “Instead of protecting indigenous interests, [the state and its agents] worked with the region’s farmers to evict the indigenous people from their lands and to promote genocidal agribusiness.”

The Time Limit Trick is just one of a series of measures that President Bolsonaro’s government is pushing aimed at opening up all indigenous lands in the country to mining, ranching and logging. These measures constitute the biggest attack on indigenous peoples in decades, and if passed could have the effect of completely destroying tribal peoples in Brazil.

Survival’s Research & Advocacy Director Fiona Watson, who has visited the Guyra Roka community, said today: “This is a stunning victory for a group of people who have been relentlessly persecuted for decades but never stopped fighting to recover their land. The Guarani and their many allies around the world will fight for their land to be returned. The Guarani have endured a decades-long humanitarian crisis in which almost all their land has been stolen, their leaders murdered, and their means of survival destroyed. Like other tribal peoples across Brazil, they’re confronting a government whose policies and actions have the clear and genocidal aim of wiping them out.”

5 thoughts on “Brazilian Supreme Court takes crucial step towards recognizing indigenous rights”

  1. The whole debate over geoengineering reminds me of an observation some humorist made, regarding the increasing number of medical interventions people undergo as they get older. “Life after 70,” she said, “is mostly just patches.”

    After a quarter-millenium of industry’s assaults on nature, life on Earth is becoming mostly patches, too. Among the global parallels to knee replacements, pacemakers, and multiple bypass surgery, we regularly hear of various procedures to save the planet — scooping plastic from the oceans, pumping poisoned fracking water into the ground, damming the waste from industrial hog farms, and now seeding already polluted air with chemicals, so that we might delay climate collapse, and give the oil industry a few more decades of destruction and corporate profits.

    As others in the environmental movement have said, technology cannot solve the inherent problems of technology. During the 20th century (which future historians, if any, may cite as Earth’s official cause of death), industry unleashed more than 80,000 manmade chemicals onto the environment — few of which were tested for health effects. Scientists had found some isolated, short-term benefit to using them, but thought little or nothing about what their untested, “miracle” inventions might do in the long run.

    Thalidomide, a drug used to treat a skin disease and a form of cancer, was widely prescribed, resulting in babies born with horrible deformities, such as hands without arms, and feet without legs. DDT was widely sprayed to kill mosquitoes and other insect “pests,” though it would take us additional decades to learn that it was bringing birds and other animals to the brink of extinction.

    The list of scientific achievements with disastrous side effects goes on and on: teflon, Agent Orange, chemical fertilizers, and all the other petroleum derivatives, to name just a few. Products as seemingly harmless as baby shampoo are among the chemicals now under suspicion.

    Decades too late, we learn the consequences — with microplastics in every air and soil sample, and in the cell structure of virtually every living thing. Human fertility is in sharp decline, with predictions that pregnancy may be virtually impossible in as little as 20 years.

    All done in the name of “progress,” “living better,” and having “more.” Our economies are measured in terms of “growth” on a finite planet, by economists and politicians who earn doctorates and win Nobel prizes, but can’t see the clear parallel between a growth-dependent culture and metastatic cancer.

    As a chronic worrier, I wondered as a child what would happen when industry ran out of things like oil, gold, and steel — all of which are obviously finite, though we use them as if they were grown on farms. My elders brushed off my concerns, assuring me that we had barely scratched the surface of natural resourses, as if a species scurrying around on the planet’s surface could never exhaust all the wealth underground.

    No one could have imagined that the things we’d run out of first would be fresh water, topsoil, and sand — or that cutting down trees for lumber, paper, cropland, cities, and cattle pastures might someday reach a “tipping point,” after which forests could never grow back, or that burning oil to fuel our cars could trigger a mass extinction, and a climate hostile to life on Earth.

    Yes, we really are that dumb. We’re so dumb, in fact, that we keep killing everything around us — ourselves included — because interrupting our collective suicide orgy would “hurt the economy,” and “destroy jobs.”

    FUCK THE ECONOMY! We can’t breathe growth, drink the economy, or eat jobs. This is a matter of survival, not corporate earnings.

    The same argument could have been made after Pearl Harbor: Going to war, shutting down the automobile industry, and sending two million men off to war caused great economic upheavel, tore families apart, and killed 406,000 Americans (which was nothing, compared to most countries’ losses).

    The multiple environmental crises we face today are infinitely worse than sinking a few ships in Hawaii, and killing a thousand or so sailors. In fact, the total losses of World War Two — 75 million dead, and cities including Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Leningrad, and Berlin reduced to ruins — are trivial, compared to the losses that are guaranteed, if we don’t wake up and see that climate change, mass extinctions, and a poisoned planet are the equal of several dozen Pearl Harbors.

    The only thing that keeps us from acting on this global, existential threat is the absence of smoking battleships, a declaration of war, the inability to admit that the enemy is our own way of life, and our blind faith in the myth that the geniuses who got us here will surely think of something to save us.

    Those would be the men who harnessed electricity, mined coal, pumped oil, created dead zones, drained aquifers, stopped the flow of rivers, cut the tops off of mountains, destroyed habitats, sterilized topsoil, expanded deserts, poisoned the oceans, and who kill 7 million people a year from air pollution. Right. Let’s trust those guys to come up with a solution.

    Roosevelt might as well have responded to Pearl Harbor with a speech telling us to “Trust Tojo, Hitler, and God.”

  2. There appears to have been a computer error in linking the Brazil indigenous rights story to the one on geoengineering. The above comment somehow was posted to the wrong article, and is supposed to follow the geoengineering article.

    1. Well, yes: If humans were more evolved in the directions of empathy, wisdom, and expanded consciousness, we wouldn’t need laws or rights, because there would be far fewer of us and we’d all be living as hunter-gatherers, probably in the tropics. I also agree with you that a new meme (though I don’t use that term) is needed and a symbiotic one replacing the current anthropocentric one would be an exponential improvement. But with the gross human overpopulation caused by agriculture, humans needed laws to keep them from killing each other (for one thing), and any rights given to the least powerful and oppressed, especially non-humans, are good things in this context.

      Ideally I support your world over this one easily, but this has to be a very long-term goal. Great human population reduction and a major change in lifestyles toward living a lot more simply and naturally are needed in order to accomplish this new world, and those things will take a long time.

  3. Indigenous people “also provide living proof that humans as a species are not inherently destructive, but a societal structure based on large scale monoculture, endless energy consumption, accumulation of wealth and power for a few elites, human supremacy and patriarchy (i.e. civilization) is. DGR stands in strong solidarity with indigenous peoples.”

    I too am in total solidarity with TRADITIONAL indigenous people. However, the rest of this statement is incorrect for two reasons:

    1. Humans devolved away from living naturally as hunter-gatherers, the latter of whom now comprise only a small fraction of 1% of humans. Therefore, this doesn’t prove that humans as a whole are not inherently destructive, but instead that a tiny minority of humans that has been able to resist being dragged into unnatural agricultural living are not so.

    2. The “societal structure based on large scale monoculture, endless energy consumption, accumulation of wealth and power for a few elites” was created and is maintained by humans. This is not some self-reifying entity that sprung up on its own. And in case you have any delusions that most humans don’t want this type of society, try talking to them and you’ll be quickly disabused of that notion. Even support for the rich is widespread, because most people (at least in the U.S., don’t know about other countries) think that THEY are going to be rich someday, so they view any attacks on the rich as attacks on themselves. (That’s why working class and even middle class people vote for Republicans, which otherwise would make absolutely no sense.)

    Humans as a whole are definitely the problem. The human defects of obsessing on intellect, ego, and unnaturally & harmfully manipulating the natural/physical world are shared by over 99% of humans. These defects caused and/or allowed humans to start using agriculture, fossil fuels, and all the rest of the things that plague and are destroying our planet. While the rich & powerful are MORE responsible for this, everyone except for the very few remaining hunter-gatherers are also responsible to at least some extent also.

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